Must I ‘know’ the Gospel to believe it?
How much of our salvation hinges upon proper mental ascension to the Gospel? Or maybe for our more monergistic readers, how certain is it that election will produce a proper mental ascension to the Gospel?
It’s my hope that most readers of this post would quickly quip that “salvation has nothing to do with our mental ascension, but hinges entirely on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for us.” To that quip I would say “Amen”. Nonetheless the quip avoids the question altogether. Let me ask a different way: Must one know that Christ has lived, died, and risen for them in order to be redeemed? Can someone ignorant of the Gospel be saved? Of course these are tired old questions, and I do not pretend to be unearthing some dramatic line of questioning that has not been played over ad nauseum… but the reason this line of questioning continues to get so much play is that it is really difficult to produce cogent answers.
If mental ascension is effectively a requirement of salvation we run into a number of theological problems. These problems have produced all sorts of doctrinal acrobatics, like the introduction of an ‘age of accountability’, the point in which a youngster is capable of mentally ascending to the Gospel. Or what of a person born with severe mental retardation? Or what of the person who has had tragic trauma to the brain prior to hearing the Gospel? Moreover, if we are saved by faith, is knowledge of the Gospel a part of faith, or is knowledge of the Gospel independent of faith? Does faith produce knowledge of the Gospel? Can someone have faith without knowledge of the Gospel?
Of course on the flip side, if mental ascension is not a component of redemption we run up against a host of very different theological issues. Issues like universalism, or the idea that evangelism could actually be the cause of damnation to those who previously never knew the Gospel.
Clearly no one will be saved apart from the finished work of Christ applied to them, but what are the means of that application? Repentance and faith? Baptism? The Lord’s Table? Yes to all… no to all? Belief only? If belief only, can you distinguish between belief and mental ascension? Are they the same? How do they differ?
These questions are painfully practical, and anyone who has walked this globe for a reasonable amount of time knows that these questions are not merely hypothetical, but actually touch upon countless real life situations. I can hear the cry of some Christians telling me that you just need to chalk these things up to the sovereignty of God, and trust Him in His judgments. I can say “Amen” to that when I sit behind my desk alone in my office, but that “Amen” is rings hollow in more pastoral situations.
Personally I know where I stand on all of this, and I know how I would answer all of these questions (though I do not pretend to be as confident as some might believe me to be.) I am more interested in how you reckon with these questions than I am with telling you how I do. I’d love to hear some answers. Just make sure they are suitable answers from a pastor standpoint, not merely from some ethereal wisdom that never touches the ground.
Is salvation tied in some way to mental ascension to the Gospel? That is the question, I look forward to your answers.